Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who faces trial this month on sodomy charges, said his Pakatan Rakyat alliance would survive even if he is convicted and jailed.
Anwar has rejected the allegations levelled by a 23-year-old former aide as a conspiracy to derail his plan to topple the government.
He was found guilty of separate sodomy and corruption charges a decade ago in a case widely seen as politically motivated. In 2004 the sodomy conviction was overturned, allowing Anwar to go free after six years in jail.
Anwar lost a final bid to have his sodomy trial held in a lower court, ending a long wrangle over where the case should be heard.
The Court of Appeal rejected the application and affirmed an earlier decision that the politically charged case should be heard in the High Court.
Amid widespread doubts over the standards of Malaysia's judiciary, Anwar's supporters have said they fear authorities will be able to manipulate the case more easily in the High Court.
There’s a small chance he’ll be acquitted, but a very, very small chance,” said political analyst James Chin from Monash University in Malaysia.
The sodomy trial could break Anwar’s political career and signal the breakup of the Pakatan Rakyat alliance which has coalesced around him, and risks deepening the political rifts in Malaysia.
"If you remove Anwar, who seems to be only person who can bring PAS and the DAP together in an alliance, then I think the chances of them destabilizing the Peoples Alliance increases appreciably," said Terence Gomez, professor at the University of Malaya’s Economics Faculty.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s image will also be damaged by Anwar’s trial. The new prime minister who came to power amidst promises of political reform runs the risk of being compared to his former mentor and prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who was largely seen as responsible for Anwar’s political fall in 1998.
“This is a no-win situation for Najib. If Anwar gets thrown into prison, he looks bad, if he’s acquitted, he also looks bad. The question is how to limit the damage,” Chin said. “I suspect he’ll be found guilty and let off with a fine. If Anwar goes to jail, the opposition will be stronger because Anwar will be seen as a martyr.”
Conviction or a trial that exposes the weaknesses of Malaysia's judiciary to international scrutiny once more, may put Malaysia in a harsh light.
"One thing must be made clear, it is my opinion that what we are doing to Anwar Ibrahim is starkly similar to what is happening to (Myanmar's) Aung San Suu Kyi," Malaysia's former Bar Council Chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said in a recent lecture.
"I ask, show me the difference between the two. I ask, how can we condemn the latter and do the former?”
Anwar served as deputy prime minister for the Barisan Nasional until he was sacked in 1998 and jailed for sodomy and corruption.
AFP, Malaysia's Anwar loses appeal ahead of sodomy trial, 3 July 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hx9d_7HziVmSlpcDl5M1v...
AFP, Malaysia's Anwar confident opposition will survive, 2 July 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iO6aL07pRniv3cg5RYwKs...
Reuters, Malaysia's Anwar heads for court, again, 5 July 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/reutersEdge/idUSTRE5642DD20090705
Taipei Times, Malaysia’s Ibrahim faces another trial in Kuala Lumpur, 6 July 2009, http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2009/07/06/2003447954